Source: http://www.northjersey.com, June 10, 2014
By: Jeff Green
The pharmaceutical giant Hoffmann-La Roche says Clifton may be liable to pay more than $10 million for a cleanup of groundwater contaminants that have been leaking through a decaying sewer line underneath the company’s facility.
A Roche-funded analysis of the sewer in April revealed “significant” amounts of underground chemical contaminants mixed with sanitary waste, according to the company. After reviewing those findings, Roche filed a notice of claim with the city, a precursor to a lawsuit, alleging that the pollution came from breaches in the city-maintained pipeline.
City officials said the company’s notice was the first they had heard of problems with the sewer, and that they must investigate to determine what caused the many cracks and fractures that Roche’s contractors found. The city also said it is inspecting the pipeline, which runs north of Route 3 along Allwood Road, to determine whether other portions are damaged.
As Roche, which ceased business operations at its Clifton and Nutley campus in December, vacates the property, the company is conducting an environmental assessment.
A camera inspection of the Clifton sewer, performed in May 2013, found cracks and roots in three sections of the line and “severe” fractures in two others. The company that conducted the inspection, Paulus, Sokolowski & Sortor PC, also raised questions about whether part of the pipe was made with asbestos, and it suggested cleanups in several locations.
Eleven months later, TRC Environmental Corp. determined that contaminants immediately southeast of Roche’s security booth near the intersection of Route 3 and First Avenue came from the sewer, according to the company’s notice. The TRC analysis also concluded that the chemicals likely originated from areas of the line north of the Roche facility, that they entered groundwater and that they are continuing to travel beneath Roche’s properties.
In its notice, Roche accuses Clifton of failing to inspect, maintain and repair the aging sewer. The cost to cleanse just the shallow groundwater contamination will exceed $10 million, the company said. The price tag would climb higher to address “deep zone” pollution and perform necessary repairs, Roche said.
City Engineer Nick Villano said the city has a regular inspection program for sewers that prioritizes areas of higher elevation. In his four years with the city, he said, the line that runs under Roche had not received an inspection, and he is not sure what happened before that time.
The company funded a $150,000 repair to the line last year that Villano said was supervised by the city.
The city is not disputing Roche’s findings about the pipeline damage, but officials will review the taped inspections, Villano said. After a meeting with Roche executives, the city bid for a contractor of its own to do a camera inspection of the line. Advance Plumbing of Woodland Park was recently awarded a $12,000 contract to find the extent of the damage and determine the cause, Villano said.
Clifton purchased camera equipment of its own last year to inspect sewers across the city. Villano said it’s his goal to inspect every sewer, to rank their conditions and use the data to plan future capital projects.
Villano speculated that heavy truck traffic and work related to construction on Route 3 by the state could have damaged the line under Roche’s property. It’s also possible that a chemical was dumped in the pipe and the pipe could not sustain it, he said.
Villano added that it’s too early to tell how much a cleanup would cost. It may be covered by one of the city’s past or present insurance companies.
“That’s putting the cart before the horse,” Villano said about the cost. “I can’t tell you scope-wise what kind of number we’re looking at.”
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